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Religion and Spirituality

The above image came up on my facebook stream recently – shared by a friend from a public page. I did an image search, and the image is very widespread – I don’t know who created it.

Clearly, this is a popular, much-loved, much-reflected-on image.

There will be various interpretations of the image:

  • religion is a subset of spirituality;
  • religion is restricting, spirituality is not;
  • you can swim out of your religion fish-bowl into the spirituality sea
  • you started within the constraints of religion, but now you are able to swim in the sea but you stay within the bowl
  • I have used a similar image, verbally, about growing up within a fishbowl, and now, tipped into the ocean, you continue to swim around as if you are in a 6 inch diameter fish bowl [I used that image in talking about cultures, not religion]
  • Maybe you can think of a positive interpretation of religion in this image – I think the picture presents religion less favourably than spirituality. What is your interpretation?

I regularly reflect on the “I’m spiritual but not religious” by describing religion as the scaffolding, and spirituality (or “relationship with God”, or whatever translates best for you) as the building. The purpose of the scaffolding (religion) is to build a good building (spirituality/relationship with God). Yes it’s possible to build a building without using scaffolding. But scaffolding helps. A lot. Good quality scaffolding leads to higher probability of a better building.

But. A lot of (most?) (“religious”) people focus on the scaffolding, not the building. They argue about the scaffolding. They split into different groups with different rules about the scaffolding… There’s the blue scaffolding group, and the yellow scaffolding group…

What do you think about all this?

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8 thoughts on “Religion and Spirituality”

  1. Strange, isn’t it, how different phrases strike different people? To me ‘spirituality’ can so easily become a completely internal, self-centred, ‘me and God’ kind of thing. But when I think of ‘religion’, I think of the letter of James: ‘Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.’ I understand why people like the word ‘spiritual’, but if I’m feeling provocative I sometimes say “I’m religious but not spiritual”!

    1. Thanks, Tim. I like the provocative 🙂 I wonder if many think of spiritual without God. And I wonder if many think of religion in the Letter of James sense. Blessings.

  2. Okay, the bowl represents guidelines (Church teaching) so there’s less room for false interpretations AND, the bowl protects us from free floating in the open ocean, getting lost, & being easily attacked by sharks (Satan). This is absolutely not what the picture intends tho.

  3. Regardless of other interpretations that might be put upon it, I’m sure the picture is intended to denigrate “religion” and those whom the artist perceives as swimming in that constricted goldfish bowl. The goldfish in the picture is drawn as a much less attractive fish than the one in the ocean, and the goldfish egocentrically (so to speak) fills the bowl, leaving no room for mystery and discovery.
    There certainly are species of religion that deserve that unflattering depiction. Within Christianity, anything that neo-platonically downgrades our relationship to the physical world is one such error. Another is the kind of eschatology that ignores the intended radical, transformative intrusion of the Kingdom of God into this present world through believers and the Church and leaves us to take comfort in the protection of our goldfish bowl while we await the return of Christ.
    A proper understanding of Christianity, informed by the knowledge of Christ through whom God created the heavens and earth and pronounced them good, gives access to spirituality and religion that is broader, freer, and more wonderful than the kind shown in the picture. Far from the Christian religion being a subset contained within the broader category of “spirituality”, it is in fact the container that gives true meaning to spirituality.

  4. If you just want a positive interpretation: Religion provides structure and security in the bowl the water is more peaceful. It protects from the dangers of the ocean (unfocused spirituality, which can lead anywhere).

  5. Getting technical, goldfish are carp, freshwater species. I’m not sure about that other fish, but the picture may only be a lake, not the saltwater ocean. If so, then spirituality is a bit more constrained being a lake and not the untamed vastness of the earth’s oceans.

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